The summer is once again just around the corner and once again it begins a little early this year. Marvel, no doubt not wanting any spoilers to spill out onto social media ahead of time, have pushed ahead their release of Avengers: Endgame, just like Infinity War did last year with it’s worldwide release. This has risen a debate as to whether it constitutes being called a summer blockbuster or not. I put it on my Early 2019 preview because it does technically fall in the spring, but at the same time, it no doubt is going to be the movie that sets the bar high for the summer season ahead, just like it predecessor had last year. The rest of the summer season looks to be the same general mix of hotly anticipated tent-poles that we’ve come to expect, both in a good and bad way. Sure, some of our franchises are going strong, but at the same time, there is little variety left in the Summer season. It’s pretty much just dominated by action movies and animated films, and that’s it. The comedy genre has strangely disappeared from the box office over the last decade, with once big names like Judd Apatow, Will Farrell, and Adam Sandler no longer producing movies meant to become big box office hits. This may be an indication of the waning draw of movie theaters in general, and that is slightly backed up by the fact that more medium sized movies, such as comedies, are moving into streaming instead. That leaves just the tent-poles and the independents to make up the platter of choices at the summer box office. So, for the most part, this is a summer season of mostly sequels, apart from one notable entry that I’ll get to. Most of this summer’s box office winners are pretty easy to pick out, but there could still be a fair share of surprises in the months ahead.
Like year’s past, I will be spotlighting several films from the months of May, June, July, and August that I believe will be stand outs for the season, and tell you which ones are the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that should be skipped. I judge my picks based on my feeling of the effectiveness of it’s marketing, the potential it has based on it’s elements, and also just through my own personal enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the film. I am not always 100% accurate in choosing these things, but I try the best I can to make an educated guess as to how well these movies will perform. So with that all said, let’s take a look at the movies of Summer 2019.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (JULY 26)
Now if there was ever a movie to stand out from the crowd this summer, it would be this movie. Quentin Tarantino has a knack for making movies that exist entirely within their own category, essentially just being classified as a Tarantino flick in the end. In the past decade, Quentin has moved out of his comfort zone of slick, urban crime stories, and dabbled in a bit of historical fiction, starting with his first stab at a war film with Inglorious Basterds (2009) and then he followed it up with a couple of westerns (Django Unchanged and The Hateful Eight). With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino returns a little closer to the present, but still presents a pastiche of a time gone by. In this case, it is Hollywood circa late 60’s, with the Manson Family Murders as a backdrop. It’s unclear whether or not the murders themselves are going to be a focal point of the plot, though Sharon Tate and Charlie Manson are characters in this particular story. Then again, Tarantino has been know to play loose with real history for the sake of entertainment, so there’s no way of knowing what he’s up to here. And that is kind of what makes this movie so fascinating. Tarantino has a wild imagination, and I’m very excited to see how it will be used in this time period. We do know for sure that it centers around the two character played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt (as a jaded actor and his body double), and that they run into a variety of characters who populated Hollywood during this period of time. Given how well Tarantino used these two leading men in films past, it’ll be really interesting how well they work together this time around. Also, Taratino took the impressive step of actually recreating the look of 1960’s Hollywood Boulevard on the actual street itself, going so far as to change entire storefronts. I even saw one of these live myself, when they were shooting a scene in front of the Cinerama Dome on Sunset. Given my own appreciation for classic cinema and Hollywood history, this is a movie I am very eager to see.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (JULY 3)
It’s a very good time to be Spider-Man right now. Coming off of his critically acclaimed reboot with Spider-Man: Homecoming, he contributed a key ingredient to the success of Avenger: Infinity War, including giving the movie it’s most heart-breaking moment. After that, two spin-off ventures enjoyed their own level of success. Venom managed to surprise many critics by surviving lukewarm reviews to become a box office hit, and the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse wound up winning an Academy Award. So, it’s safe to say that there is excitement for this main franchise film. Tom Holland, who has won universal acclaim for his take on the webslinger, returns, along with much of the supporting players, and the movie takes the interesting angle of having leave the comforts of his New York home for what he believes will be a relaxing vacation, until things naturally go awry. The plot itself is pretty straightforwardly laid out in the trailer, but there’s one that it conveniently leaves out. This movie has the prime position of being the first Marvel Universe film after Endgame, but as most people know by now, Infinity War left Spider-Man’s ultimate fate in question. We know that he lives again in Far From Home, but exactly how remains to be seen, as goes for Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury who’s also in the movie. And how does Jake Gyllenhall’s Mysterio fit into all of this? No doubt Endgame will clear up a lot of questions, but It’s a good thing that the marketing for this movie has been very careful to not spoil anything major. Everyone’s ready for another Spider-Man, and no doubt after Avengers, the excitement will be even more dramatic.
TOY STORY 4 (JUNE 21)
Pixar may have the most enviable library of films imaginable in the history of animation, but their crown jewels have always been the franchise that put them on the map first. Toy Story is one of the most important movies ever in the history of animation, sparking a revolution of computer animation into the medium. And since then, it has followed up that success with two equally beloved sequels. Now, nearly 25 years after the original’s premiere (with gaps in between movies equaling near a decade in length) a fourth entry into the Toy Story franchise is arriving this summer. At first, I was hesitant to see any more of this series, especially after the near perfect note that Toy Story 3 (2010) left on, but the more I’ve seen of this movie in the subsequent trailers these past months, I feel a little more encouraged by what Pixar has in store for us. For one thing, I am happy to see the return Bo Peep to the cast, complete with her original voice actress (Annie Potts) returning as well. Also, having Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and all the other regulars returning is a good sign (including what is likely Don Rickles last performance). Another pleasing sign is the animators taking full advantage of the advances they’ve made with animation since the original films. For the first time, Toy Story is widescreen, and the scope feels much bigger as a result. I can already tell this is going to be a very visually pleasing movie to look at. The only question remaining is if Toy Story 4 can still reach the lofty emotional heights of it’s predecessors. The nostalgia heavy feel of the trailer suggests that Pixar is attempting to reach that, so it will remain to be seen if that actually holds true in the final movie. Given Pixar’s track record, it seems reliable to think so.
JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM (MAY 17)
Keanu Reeves career is something of a miracle when you think about it. Every time you think that you’ve think he’s about finished, most likely after a string of embarrassing failures, he somehow manages to find that project that immediately revitalizes him. And he keeps doing it over and over again. No one has shifted gears in Hollywood better than him in the last 30 or so years. And though Speed and The Matrix are iconic films in of themselves, I feel that the movies that have best displayed Mr. Reeves talent has been the John Wick movies. Perhaps it’s how his deadpan delivery mixes so perfectly with the almost cartoonishly over the top violence in these movies that just makes these movies so fun to watch. The first two John Wick’s are some of the most cleverly constructed and well choreographed action films in recent memory. There’s just something about how well they mix the graphic with the absurd that just hits the right spot. Now, the franchise has a chance to do something that no other Keanu Reeves film has; make a complete and satisfying trilogy. Parabellum picks up right where the others left off, and it shows from the trailer that there’s no need to stray too far from a working formula. My hope is that the movie continues to stay well paced as the other two films, and that it keeps coming up with fresh spins on the various action set pieces. It could run the risk of becoming repetitive, but that was the same worry that followed Chapter 2, and that movie ended up defying expectations. It is interesting to see Halle Berry joining in this time, and the movie could certainly earn her some helpful cred in the action film arena, much in the same way it did for Keanu. It’s hard to tell if this marks the end of the road for John Wick as a character (probably not), but if it is, let’s hope he goes out with a bang louder than any of the million gunshots he fires in all these movies.
THE LION KING (JULY 19)
Disney is not one to shy away from a trend in the market, and this time, the trend is one of their own making. The studio has seen unprecedented success with the live action adaptations of their animated classics. But, though the movies are financial success, critically they have received a lukewarm response, especially when compared to those of their predecessors. The biggest complaint usually levied at these films is that they add nothing of value and usually replace what worked in the original with something dramatically inferior. But, since they still make a lot of money, Disney is in no position to slow down assembly line. This year alone has three such remakes; one, the already disappointing Dumbo from Tim Burton, and the other the worrisome Aladdin coming in May (more on that later). However, the one that does have the most potential is also the one that just so happens to be based on Disney’s biggest animated hit ever. And a big reason to be hopeful is because this one is in the hands of Jon Favreau, who already brought The Jungle Book successfully to the big screen. Though I had a mellow opinion to the adaptation of Jungle Book, I felt it was a shortcoming more attributed to the story and not the visuals, which were stunning. Now, Favreau is taking the groundbreaking digital technology used on that film and is applying it to The Lion King. I hesitate to say that it’s a live action remake, because everything in this film, from characters to setting is rendered in a computer, but it’s as close to life like as the medium will get. Also, the cast for this movie is insanely impressive, and I’m especially happy to see the return of Jame Earl Jones to the role of Mufasa. My hope is that they’ve fleshed out the story in the best way and made it deserving of the legacy of the animate classic. With all the ingredients we’ve seen so far, it seems very likely that this lion will roar.
MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (MAY 31)
A couple years back, one of the most exciting new movies that was coming to theaters was the brand new re-imaginging of Godzilla in 2014. After the train-wreck that was the 1998 Roland Emmerich Godzilla, here we had a remake that took it’s cue from the original Japanese monster movies, and had a sense of it’s importance to cinema history. Unfortunately, the Gareth Edwards film was a little on the boring side, focusing too much on it’s bland human characters and not enough on Godzilla himself. Even still, the updated Godzilla was well-received and was begging for a better film to take full advantage of him. The shared universe film Kong: Skull Island (2017) did a much better job of balancing character and monster fights, which gave more hope for what we’d see next for the King of Monsters himself. The first glimpses we’ve seen so far from this follow-up seem intriguing; the heavier focus on the monsters is a good sign. The only nagging question is, are there too many monsters in this movie. Godzilla: King of the Monsters has an all-star cast of all cinema’s most famous kaiju, including the big lizard himself as well as Rohdan, King Ghidorah, and even Mothra. Each of these monsters are deserving of a solo film of their own, as they’ve had in the past. Putting them all in one movie might be overkill, and not enough time will be devoted to each one as a result. I hope that everything will balance out, and hopefully the human characters won’t be as bland this time around as well. I like the addition of Stranger Thing’s Millie Bobby Brown to the cast, and seeing Ken Watanabe return as well is a pleasing sign, since he was one of the best things about the 2014 Godzilla. More monsters probably means more action, but we may learn that we should be careful what we wish for.
ALADDIN (MAY 24)
Speaking of wishes, leave it to Disney to also give us a remake of Aladdin. Strangely enough, I was hopeful for this remake, given that the story does lend itself well enough to the live action medium; especially with the many adaptations of The Thief of Baghdad in the past. And then we got that first glimpse of Will Smith as the Genie, in all his creepy CGI enhanced, blue-skinned glory. Now, thankfully, we’ve seen that he doesn’t stay that way throughout the entire movie, but it was enough to turn many people off and make people start to dread what’s coming. For me, it just signified my worst fear, that this movie is trying too hard to match the original, meaning that it’s going to lean heavily on CGI enhancements that will look very out of place and unnecessary. The best of these live action remakes from Disney are the ones that stray furthest from the originals and try to be their own thing; and also are more visually subtle. In this trailer, there are some interesting visuals, but they are limited to the impressive sets and costuming. Everything computer enhanced so far has this element of detachment from the rest of the film, and that could be a problem. My hope is that the finished product looks better within the context of the movie itself. Truth be told, I do think that the casting of Will Smith as the Genie is a good one for the movie. It’s close to what the Broadway show has done with the character, changing the Genie into a Cab Calloway-style jazzy showman. Will Smith fits that mold easy, and considering there is no way you could replicate what Robin Williams did in the original, portraying the character this way is the best they can do. It’s also interesting that Disney gave this project to Guy Richie (of all people) which is thinking a bit outside of the box, but hopefully not too far. I’m wishing this movie turns out alright in the end, but it has all the warning signs of another remake that carelessly undermines the quality of the original.
POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU (MAY 10)
This movie could go all sorts of ways. For one thing, it could bring the Pokemon characters into the mainstream like never before, or it could end up disappointing legions of fans that span several generations. The casting of Ryan Reynolds in the title role is a positive sign, given the goodwill that he’s earned through the Deadpool movies, but at the same time I feel that he’s putting his reputation on the line here as well. This movie could very well not be as funny as the trailers make it out to be, and Reynolds input could reflect badly on him if fans are not pleased with the results. The Pokemon fan community is a fairly devoted one, so they are going to be taking this movie fairly seriously, seeing as this is the first foray for the characters into the realm of live action. And most movies that have been based on either Japanese anime or video games of any kind have not fared well at the box office, so this movie has a lot of bad history to overcome. That being said, the animation is fairly solid on both Pikachu and all the other Pokemon. It hits the right balance between looking true to the original designs, while also fitting in well with the live action setting. And the animation does match Ryan Reynolds voice pretty well so far; we’ll just have to wait and see if it still remains funny throughout. As of now, this movie could end up being a mixed bag, and likely someone will not approve of this movie whether it’s the loyalists who say it’s not faithful enough or the causal view who might come out of the movie not understanding it at all.
ROCKETMAN (MAY 31)
The showbiz biopic is a tough shell to crack sometimes, and that is becoming all the more apparent nowadays. Last year, we were treated to Bohemian Rhapsody, the Queen biopic, which is a textbook example of how not to make a movie about a famous rock band. Despite winning it’s 4 undeserved Oscars (except maybe Best Actor), Rhapsody was a cliche ridden mess that trivialized the real drama behind the story of the band and instead just ended up glorifying them instead, making the film feel false as a result. A movie suffers when you let the subjects depicted micro-manage how they want to be portrayed, because the movie runs the risk of being too sanitized. This upcoming biopic of the life of Elton John comes right on the heels of Rhapsody, and it even shares a director in Dexter Fletcher (who was brought on to salvage Rhapsody after it’s scandal ridden and unprofessional original director was fired). John is involved as a producer, but he’s a little less guarded about his personal turmoils than the surviving members of Queen are. Also the spot on casting of Taron Egerton is a good sign. My hope is that this translates into a more interesting movie as a result, but it also looks like the movie doesn’t have a dramatic focal point to hang onto either. One of the biggest problems with a lot of biopic is that they try to tell too much of a person’s life story, from childhood all the way up the present, when in reality it should pick out a single crucial moment in a person’s life that defined who they were. From the look of the trailer, it seems like they are sticking to the former. Hopefully, they can mine enough from this formula to make a worthwhile biopic, and not just another Bohemian Rhapsody.
MOVIES TO SKIP:
DARK PHOENIX (JUNE 7)
Back in 2000, X-Men was a breakthrough film for the fledgling genre. Here was a super hero movie that took it’s characters and their stories seriously, and helped to ground it in a way that made those concepts work cinematicly. Cut to nearly 20 years later, the super hero genre has gone on to conquer Hollywood, but for the X-Men, things have been not so fortunate. Series’ icon Hugh Jackman has already hung up his claws as Wolverine, and the last entry in this inconsistent franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) left audiences cold and unsatisfied. Now, the series itself is obsolete, as the Disney/Fox merger brings the entire Marvel cast of characters under one tent, and Marvel chief Kevin Feige has already stated that a complete overhaul is coming. So what happens with this final entry in the series. Well, nothing good from what I hear. News has spread about terrible test screenings leading to expensive eleventh hour re-shoots, and the evidence shows in the trailer. The cast looks like they’ve already checked out, especially Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. It’s just sad to see this once influential come to an end with a film that looks so fatigued. Sure, the X-Men films have weathered through some bad movies in the past, but this is the definitive end. There is no way to salvage this with a better follow-up, so if this is the end of the road, too bad it’s one plagued with so many problems. One can only hope that it’s better than the trailers make it out to be, but unfortunately it looks like this Phoenix has no chance of rising.
UGLY DOLLS (MAY 3)
You know of those movies that are clearly designed to sell you on something else, with the actual movie plot treated as an afterthought? Ugly Dolls seems like a quintessential example of that. The thing in question it’s trying to pawn on us the audience of course is the pop infused soundtrack, which includes many chart-topping names, who also conveniently make up the voice cast. It’s clear that the focus is put more into the songs and not so much in what is going on in the story. This is sadly an all too common occurrence today, especially with animated movies. Dreamworks even fell into that trap when they made their movie Trolls (2016), which was a soulless, cliche ridden movie with a great sounding soundtrack featuring Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick. And like Trolls, it’s clear that the movie is also trying desperately hard to push a toy line on younger audiences as well. The only difference is that Ugly Dolls doesn’t have the same level of high quality animation that Dreamworks has built itself up with. Instead we get animation that barely looks passable and has this off-putting featureless quality to it. This will not have the same cross over appeal that other toy based animated movies have enjoyed, like The Lego Movie for example, an I’m hard pressed to think that this album that it’s trying to push on audiences is even going to take off itself.
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (JUNE 14)
The original Men in Black was a breath of fresh air when it first came out back in 1997. Twenty years later it’s still fondly regarded, but most everything that has come after is not so much. The sequel is widely regarded as one of the worst ever made, especially considering that it ret-conned the original’s beautifully poetic ending out of existence just so they could bring Tommy Lee Jones back, and the second sequel, made over a decade later, only muddled things up more, only not to as extreme an extent. Now, Men in Black is trying to reboot things entirely by shifting focus on a brand new team. Bringing in Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson is a good move, since they had incredible chemistry together in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), but I don’t think that’s going to be a saving grace for this franchise. This movie looks like it’s falling into the same pitfalls as the other failed films, which began to favor CGI enhanced eye candy over practical effects, and goofy humor over character driven comedy. Also, there’s just no replication for the on screen chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith; it was just a perfect match because they balanced each other out. Hemsworth and Thompson seem almost too similar in these roles, with the one defining difference being their gender. That’s not enough to bring new life into this franchise that has long seen it’s star dim into darkness.
So, there you have my outlook for the upcoming Summer season. For the most part, it’s what you would expect. Of course Marvel is going to dominate, no matter what the ripple effect from Avengers: Endgame will be across it’s cinematic universe. Pixar is gearing up it’s brightest star for another go around with Toy Story 4. And I’m especially excited to see what Quentin Tarantino has up his sleeve with his ode to the groovy years of Hollywood. But, one thing that will be interesting about this summer is whether or not audiences are going to express any fatigued with regards to franchise film-making, which is growing ever more prevalent in theatrical releases. Is it a sign that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are starting to affect the theater business as a whole. Streaming is starting to corner the market on those mid-range movies that usually sprouted up once and a while and surprised at the box office from time to time. Now, those movies are a rarity. Now, the only movies making profits today are super hero movies and horror flicks, and the former usually has to reach the billion dollar mark now to be considered profitable. It’s only a matter of time before we start to see audiences either grow tired of these large scale tent poles, or if they continue to embrace them. I wish there was more variety in the market, and that movies of all sizes were available for viewing on the big screen, but if the market is moving one way, then it’s likely to change the industry in general for a long time. But then again, that’s just my tastes as a film-goer. If streaming is the only way to get a mid-range movie made nowadays, it’s probably a good thing, just so that those movies can exist at all. Anyway, I hope this preview is helpful for those wanting to know what’s on the horizon. At the very least, my hope is that everyone finds something new to love at the movies this summer and in the months thereafter.